NYC - It's Child's Play

Children and city breaks - it's not a winning combination. Unless you plan carefully and choose your destination well, says Kate Simon

'So, did you like New York?" (I'm talking to my seven-year-old son, Quincy.) "Whaaaaht?" he drawls.

"Did you like New York?" I repeat.

"Yes, I loved it," he replies, yet for all its implied emotion the delivery is just as monotonous.

"Why?" I ask. Silence.

"Name two things you liked about it," chips in Dad.

"It was, just, fun."

"But what did you like?" I'm pushing it now.

"I liked the big buildings."

"Why?"

"They were really big - and sharp."

"What about the park?"

"Oh, yeah."

"What about that toy shop?"

"Super." (Did he really say "super"? He's just humouring me.)

"What about the milkshake you had there?"

"Oh, that was nice."

"And that hot dog?"

"Nang!" (That means good.)

Kids and city breaks; I'm not convinced they are a winning combination. Such trips are designed for shopping, sightseeing, relaxing over a meal - leisurely adult pursuits that bore most kids rigid. So I'm surprised - pleased - that mention of this holiday evokes such positive memories. And not just because we're talking about the Ninja Turtles' home town.

But I suspect that Quincy's enthusiasm is no accident. Rather, it is the product of my careful planning. For New York is my favourite foreign city, so I was determined to get it just right.

First, I waited until my son was at least seven so that there would be some hope of him appreciating what he would see (a lesson learnt on previous city trips which had ended up as glorified tours of municipal playgrounds). Next, I chose to stay close to Central Park so that should his little legs have more stamina than could be stamped out on Manhattan's streets and avenues, there would be a convenient stretch of grass to use up those last stubborn drops of energy. And, finally, I constructed an itinerary that guaranteed both parents and child some "me time" each day to stave off the tantrums (especially mine).

At first sight I fretted about my choice of hotel, The Essex House - now prefixed Jumeirah in honour of its latest Middle Eastern owners, who are currently refurbishing it to the tune of $70m (£35m). Its marble lobby is one of the finest examples of an Art Deco interior in Manhattan; a place that I fancy should be frequented by sharp-suited gents and their mink-wearing ladies, not fidgety boys like mine with an eye to ride the bellhop's trolley.

But for all its grandeur, the hotel welcomes children. Kids get to share their parents' room for free; Cartoon Network and computer games are available on the TV; there's a kids' menu; two- to five-year-olds get a pack of munchies on arrival (sure to make their older siblings jealous), and there are bikes for tootling around the park.

Yet it's the location on the southern edge of Central Park that makes the hotel such a recommendable spot for families. (And the strong pound makes such a top address more affordable, for the moment at least.) Only the Green Cross Code stands between you and acres of child-friendly grass. This is also the part of the park where you'll find the Wollman outdoor ice rink (from November to March) and the Central Park Zoo, though our son preferred the simple pleasures of a daily kickabout with his dad on Sheep Meadow.

And while he could have spent his whole holiday in the park, it was possible to drag him out of its gates to explore the rest of Manhattan. The close proximity of New York's premier toy store, FAO Schwarz, provided an alluring "next stop", especially its Ice Cream Parlor, where the milkshakes come family size. The promise of a visit to more child-friendly shops (the Disney Store, a few doors down, is another obvious bribe) ensured a measure of tolerance of our desire to snatch the opportunity to assemble a new dollar-cheap wardrobe - though it didn't prevent the odd game of hide and seek among the rails of some of Fifth Avenue's finest clothing emporia.

Persuading him to go sightseeing was easier than we had expected. After all, he only had to look up at those "big, sharp buildings" to realise he was in quite an extraordinary place. We lost the argument to ascend the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock, the viewing platform on the roof of the Rockefeller Center. "It's not that I don't like heights," he assured us. "I just don't feel like it today." (Today being every day of the holiday. Hmm?) But he was enthusiastic about riding a water taxi along the Hudson to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. And we managed to extend the modern history lesson with a visit to Ground Zero. Even getting about - by yellow cab, subway and bicycle rickshaw - offered thrilling new experiences.

But the way to a kid's heart is through their stomach. And one thing New Yorkers know how to do is satisfy appetites, large and small. Our days began with a hearty breakfast at a branch of the Europa café, just around the corner from the hotel; I think our son found the routine, owning a little bit of the city, as attractive as the vast menu. (New York bagels are now a firm favourite.)

And the Brooklyn Diner on West 57th, with its unfeasibly large hot dogs, provided a good choice for dinner not too far from bed. During the day we were able to snack on panini at Bloomingdales' café, Burke in the Box, eat honey-dipped fried chicken at Amy Ruth's in Harlem, and sample the legendary cheesecake at Junior's, just down from Times Square.

I'm not sure it's possible, but I think Quincy might like a return visit to New York almost as much as me.

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